Focal Spirit One Headphone/Headset (Playback)

Focal Spirit One
  • Drivers: The Spirit One features 40mm dynamic (that is, moving coil-type) drivers fitted with Mylar/titanium diaphragms.
  • Elegant, Euro-Styling: The Spirit One is an unusually handsome headphone whose design plainly is the result of a great deal of careful thought. Visually, you are treated to a pleasing mix of subdued textures and colors, where the headband is finished in matte black, the frame finished in brushed silver metal, and the ear cups are finished in matte black with a combination of brushed silver trim with tastefully restrained chrome accents. The look is modern, yet inviting—not overly angular or severe.
  • Comfort-first design: The Spirit One not only looks good but is also, very much by design, easy to adjust and extremely comfortable to wear. One deceptively simple but actually quite sophisticated feature involves the design of the headband and frame of the Spirit One. The center section of the headband carries a thick pad and is fitted with sliding frames you can adjust to accommodate various head sizes and shapes. At the business ends of the frames, Focal provides hinged, articulated arms that carry the headphone’s ear cups. The really clever part is that those articulated arms swivel in two axes (rotating side-to-side, and also moving inward and outward) to ensure the ear cups always align correctly with the contours/angles of the wearers’ ears—something that can’t always be said of competing headphones. The upshot is that the Spirit Ones are uncannily comfortable—not only when you first put them on, but for longer listening sessions.
  • Compact, Closed-Back, Circumaural design: Focal describes the Spirit One as a “closed back, "circumaural” (that is, over-the-ear) headphone, but in truth it’s not much larger than some of the on-ear ‘phones we’ve sampled. The ear cups of the Spirit One are just large enough to fit around your ears, although those with larger ears might discover there’s not an awful lot of extra room to spare. Nevertheless, the ear cups, which are fitted with padded leather ear pads are extremely comfortable and do a very good job of blocking out external noise. According to Focal, the various elements of the Spirit One’s frame, ear cup, and ear cup pad designs combine to provide 18dB of passive noise attenuation.
  • Made for iPod/iPhone/iPad design:Recognizing that a very large percentage of prospective customers have adopted Apple’s ubiquitous iDevices as their source components of choice, Focal has fitted the Spirit One with a fabric clad, detachable signal cable that comes fitted with an Apple-compatible mic/remote control module (whose styling precisely matches that of the headphone).
  • Smart accessories: The accessory pack for the Spirit One includes:
  • o   A canvas clad, molded, hard-shell carrying case with zipper closure.
  • o   A fabric, drawstring-type carrying bag.
  • o   The aforementioned detachable signal cable.
  • o   An airplane adapter.
  • o   A threaded 3.5mm mini-jack plug to ¼ phone jack plug adapter.
  • o   A 3.5mm mini-jack male-to-female adapter cable.


Like many Focal loudspeakers, the Spirit One enchants—even seduces—the listener with its warm, natural-sounding, and wonderfully nuanced midrange. This isn’t to suggest that midrange frequencies are the only thing the Spirit Ones do, but it is the part of the part of audio spectrum that these headphones handle with the greatest levels of refinement and panache. Some headphones suppress or “scoop” the mids to make bass and highs sound more spectacular or else press midrange frequencies forward for greater emphasis of vocals, strings, brass and wind instruments and the like, but the Spirit Ones do neither of these things. Instead, they simply present the heart of the music in a natural and unforced way, conveying as much musical subtlety as the recording has to offer—all without exaggeration or over-dramatization.

Bass is also warmly voiced, powerful, and supplies a good amount of foundation mid-bass support, though it does—on some tracks and with some amplifiers or personal digital music players—have a slightly larger-than-life quality. Still, the good news is that the Spirit One’s bass is never booming, billowy, or loose sounding. It exhibits good definition and transient speed even when driven directly from an iPod, and is capable of even higher resolution and better levels of low-frequency control when driven by a top-shelf portable amp such as the superb Ray Samuels SR-71B Blackbird.

Upper midrange frequencies and highs are reasonably clear, but may strike some headphone aficionados as being just slightly rolled off or perhaps a touch softly focused. But this, I think, is probably a wise design choice on Focal’s part in that it makes the Spirit One more forgiving (or at least tolerant) of records that are basically much too “hot” in the first place, and therefore have potentially strident treble transients and brash, harsh upper midranges sounds (a lot of modern pop recordings suffer from these problems). Happily, the Focal ‘phones can show you most of what’s right in really good records, while also exposing the flaws in lesser recordings—yet without beating you over the head with those flaws. Instead, the Spirit One has a consistently relaxed, easygoing demeanor that can work well with most any genre of music.

I should mention that one of the Spirit One’s particular strengths is its sensitivity. For the most part, these ‘phones are perfectly happy to be driven directly from an iPod. The Focals really don’t need (or even leave you wishing for) an outboard portable amp. If you do happen to choose a really good portable amp you may, on some recordings, hear small but worthwhile improvements in terms of more finely rendered textures and details, as well as better control at the frequency extremes. But surprisingly, there are also many instances where the Spirit One actually sounds better when powered directly from an iPod or other portable player, rather than through an auxiliary amplifier (a phenomenon I’ve not encountered with any other headphone to this point). Frankly, I don’t know precisely what it is about the Spirit One that enables it to perform so well when driven by a humble iPod, but there you have it.


One of the easiest ways to get a handle on the Spirit One’s formidable midrange strengths is to listen to a recording that highlights expressive female vocals—preferably vocals that feature delicate inflections, modulations, and other tonal shifts that add richness and texture. One such recording is “Pride and Joy” from Brandi Carlile’s Give Up the Ghost [Sony]. On this track we hear much of the range of Ms. Carlile’s voice in action, both in terms of pitch and dynamics. On the opening verse we hear a softer, quieter, more plaintive side of her voice, dramatized by an almost impossibly delicate vibrato, as she sings, “All in all it wasn’t bad/all in all it wasn’t good/but I still… …care.” But as the chorus arrives, Carlile seems to shifts

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